Relationship marketing as a paradigm shift: some conclusions from the 30R approach

Evert Gummesson Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

Stresses issues brought up in the first World Wide Web conference on relationship marketing. Based on research on relationship marketing going back to the early 1970s which resulted in the definition of 30 relationships in marketing – the 30R approach. Brings up inconsistencies in marketing, among them the mix-up between relationship marketing as a phenomenon and a term; values and ethics; practice versus theory and education; differences between Europe and the USA; and the ghosthunt for an unambiguous definition. Concludes that relationship marketing requires a dramatic change in marketing thinking and behaviour; it is a paradigm shift, not an add-on to traditional marketing management.

This contribution to relationship marketing (RM) further stresses some of the issues brought up in the other papers and comments in the Internet discussion, and adds my own observations and results. It is based on research on the RM phenomenon dating back to the 1970s, with the first papers in English from the the early 1980s (Gummesson, 1983). My basic thinking on RM is a gradual extension of the “Nordic School” approach to services marketing and management, and the network approach to industrial marketing as developed by the IMP Group (Industrial Marketing and Purchasing Group). Both areas emerged during the 1970s and have continued to develop since. More recent sources of inspiration are above all total quality management and the new theories on imaginary (virtual, network) organizations. My approach to RM has been presented in articles and a recent book, Relationship Marketing: From 4Ps to 30Rs (Gummesson, 1995), first published in Swedish and to be published in English in 1997; the paper first summarizes this 30R (30 relationships) approach to RM. It then discusses gaps and inconsistencies in marketing thinking and behaviour. Finally, it is argued that RM is a paradigm shift.

Emerging theory of RM
This paper is based on a sub-theme contribution to the First Internet WWW Conference on Relationship Marketing in 1996. The paper has incorporated certain views from the discussion and has been revised for journal publication.
Much of what is currently written about RM is theoryless, a stack of fragmented philosophies, observations and claims which do not converge in the direction of an emerging RM theory For example, RM is often presented as . a new promotional package to be sold to the customer, or a new type of marketing made possible thanks to information technology . Efforts to contribute to a more comprehensive theory are found in Christopher, Payne and Ballantyne (1991) and in their later writings; in Kotler (1992); and Hunt and Morgan (1994). My contribution to a theory of RM is called the 30R approach. Its core is the identification of 30 tangible relationships that exist in business and other organizations (see

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Gummesson, 1994, 1995, 1996) and their consequences. Examples of the 30Rs are: the classic dyad of the supplier and customer; relationships via full-time and part-time marketers; the electronic relationship; personal and social networks; mega-alliances (alliances above the individual corporations, such as the EU and the NAFTA); and the relationship to external providers of marketing services. The main features of the 30R approach to RM are summarized below: 1 Definition: RM is marketing seen as relationships, networks and interaction. 2 RM characteristics: value for the parties involved, of which the customer is one, is created through an interaction process between suppliers, customers, competitors and others; suppliers and customers are often co-producers, they create value for each other in a joint effort. 3 Values: more win-win and less win-lose; more equal parties; all parties carry a responsibility and can be active in a relationship; long-term relationships. 4 Tangibility and operational aspects: the specification of the 30Rs is an attempt to make RM tangible and operational. The Rs have been grouped in market relationships (classic and special) and non-market relationships (mega relationships above the market relationships, and nano relationships below the market relationships). 5 Relationship portfolio and marketing planning: the selection of a relationship portfolio – the relationships a certain company intends to work with during the next planning period – is part of the marketing planning process. 6 Theoretical and practical base: primarily built on a synthesis between marketing mix (the 4Ps) and traditional marketing management, services marketing, the network approach to industrial marketing, quality management, organization theory, and observations from reflective practitioners. 7 Links to management: RM is more than marketing management, it is rather marketing-oriented management – an aspect of the total management of the firm – and not limited to a marketing or sales department; the marketing plan becomes part of the business plan.

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8 Links to organizational structure: RM is the marketing manifestation of the imaginary (virtual, network) organization – and vice versa. 9 Advantages to a firm: increased customer retention and duration; increased marketing productivity and thus increased profitability; and increased stability and security . 10 Advantages to the market economy: RM adds collaboration to competition and regulations/institutions. The symbiosis between these three forces contributes to a marketing equilibrium, a dynamic and optimal balance of the market economy seen from a marketing management perspective. 11 Advantages to society and the citizen: RM is marketing for the new economy – the service society, the information society, the postmodern society or, as I prefer to call it, the value society – which adds value through increased focus on customized production and one-to-one marketing; diminished focus on standardized mass manufacturing and anonymous mass marketing. 12 Validity: RM provides a foundation for a more realistic approach to marketing than is currently prevailing in marketing education. In practice, business is largely conducted through networks of relationships. 13 Generalizability: RM can be applied to all kinds of companies and offerings, but the relationship portfolio and the application is always specific to a given situation. This is, of course, an extremely condensed presentation; for further explication, see the sources mentioned above. As everything else currently presented in RM, this is a personal interpretation and RM is partly treated differently by others. My perception of RM builds on research and practical experience, my own as well as that of others, with the purpose of renewing our thinking and improving our insights.

phenomenon. Too many scholars seem to chase the term rather than the content it represents. This may be part of the rat race for tenure, consulting assignments, or recognition as (alleged) originators. Relationships, networks and interaction – which turn up as the key terms for capturing the soul of RM – have been in the core of business since time immemorial. The literature and research that are currently contributing to RM theory generation are primarily found in services marketing, the network approach to business marketing, quality management, and new trends in organization theory The term rela. tionship marketing was used by Bund Jackson in her project on industrial marketing from the late 1970s, and published in her book in 1985. Berry, in a paper in 1983, used the term for services. Other terms that have been used over the years are the network and interaction approach, marketing as long-term interactive relationships, and interactive marketing. In an early attempt to make a synthesis of services marketing and the network approach to industrial marketing, the term “a new concept of marketing” was used (Gummesson, 1983). The phenomenon of RM has probably been treated in a number of now forgotten texts. Wittreich, for example, being one of the early proponents of the importance of services marketing with an article in the Harvard Business Review in 1966, represented one of the very few sources to which I had access when I started research on professional services in 1974 (see Gummesson, 1978). Among other things, Wittreich says (1969, p. 9):
There is not a single point in the course of a relationship with the client where the sale is made, but there are many points in that relationship where effective selling is required … the sale has never been fully consummated until the project has been completed to the client’s satisfaction.

RM as lip service vs genuine change in values and ethics
A gap between traditional marketing management and RM can also be created by marketers who have not internalized the original marketing concept and its application in RM, and just perceive RM as a fad to which it is smart to confess. The old values have not killed the new ones, just pushed them into a corner from which they make recurrent efforts to break out. Inadequate basic values and the absence of ethics are the biggest obstacles to success in RM. The basic values of RM should include the acceptance – in action, not only in rhetoric – of interactive relationships and a win-win situation; of both the buyer and the seller and

Gaps and inconsistencies in marketing thinking and behaviour
My research on RM has laid bare a series of gaps and inconsistencies in the thinking, development and execution of marketing. Five of these will be discussed below.

The origin of RM: new term vs old phenomenon
There is a gap between the use of the term RM and the understanding of the actual phenomenon. RM is a new term but an old

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other parties being drivers of a network of relationships; of long-term relationships being advantageous to the parties involved; and of the customer being a co-producer of value and a partner. The ethical aspects of RM are salient. Frequently quoted properties of RM include trust, honesty, benevolence, reliability, commitment and diligence (Murphy, Wood, and Laczniak, 1996). The deontological reasoning by philosopher Kant – “the categorical imperative”, meaning that a person must be willing to accept his or her acts as a universal law – and the utilitarianist approach – “the greatest good for the greatest number” – are efforts to provide guidelines for ethical behaviour (Takala and Uusitalo, 1996). RM should clearly not be perceived as a promotional package to be sold to the customer, although it is sometimes presented as such. Nor should RM be perceived as a more potent way that a salesperson can manipulate and outsmart a consumer, or a way for a powerful customer to turn a dependent supplier into its obedient slave. These types of asymmetrical relationship exist, however, and to point this out, one of the 30Rs is labelled, “The monopoly relationship: the customer or supplier as prisoner”.

The world of practice vs the world of business school education
I was first acquainted with the importance of relationships in 1968 in a very tangible way – it was a matter of professional survival – and I quote (Gummesson, 1996, p. 36):
Working in PA Consulting Group, a large British international management consulting company, I was assigned the responsibility of selling the services of a group of consultants in Scandinavia. At that time, there was absolutely nothing in the marketing literature on professional services, nor on services in general. Through my own practical experience and advice from senior colleagues, I gradually learned that two things mattered besides a certain professional knowledge. One was the image of the consulting firm or of individual consultants; it attracted inquiries leading to assignments. The other was the network of professional and social relationships that individual consultants represented by birth, membership in certain social circles, or professional achievements. These relationships were also important internally when consultants were selected to staff new assignments.

research, to some extent, and education, to a large extent, have become stuck in a narrow and mechanical approach to marketing through the dominant marketing management paradigm. Through business school training, some practising managers have been led to believe that marketing is no more then the received theories. These theories hold important messages and knowledge for the specific issues to which they are pertinent, but they have claimed to be general and complete. They have therefore contributed to moulding an “unreal reality”. Other practitioners reject marketing theories and create their own frameworks based on experience and personality . Marketing scholars, consultants and practising managers, who are now confessing to RM, are adding language and systems to a long-existing phenomenon. This is no small task. However, using a metaphor: America existed before Columbus got there. To say that he “discovered” America is a one-sided view; he discovered it for those who did not know it existed, not for those who lived there. But he did not create it, he just gave it a name and put it on a map. (To add to the confusion, Columbus did not, ex ante, know where he was going, and he did not, ex post, know where he had been.) In conclusion, RM is new in the books, but ancient in practice.

Differences between Europe and the USA
While US thinking in marketing issues is well known in Europe, European thinking in marketing is largely unknown in the USA. In services marketing the situation is better, which is shown in interpretations of the history of services marketing presented by Berry and Parasuraman (1993), and Fisk, Brown and Bitner (1993). Even if international conferences and, increasingly, the Internet allow everybody to spread their papers and articles more globally, it would be desirable if a dialogue could develop and not just a series of parallel and lecture-like monologues. It is somewhat puzzling for a northern European to note that services marketing, the network approach and TQM are not mentioned in reviews of the history and development of marketing presented by American scholars. This is so despite the fact that both services and quality are viable areas for research and practice in the USA (not yet the network approach to industrial marketing, however). The contributions from the IMP Group during the past 20 years, most of them available in English, are not even noted (see the anthologies edited by Axelsson and Easton, 1992; Ford, 1990;

Since then, I have had a series of experiences with companies on the significance of relationships. To my understanding, the real world of business and marketing has deployed an RM approach (although it has not been labelled as such) while the academic

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Håkansson, 1982; and Håkansson and Snehota, 1995). “Histories” of marketing, that are claimed to be universal and general, are in fact local and specific. As long as this is recognized, those histories can be valuable contributions to our understanding of the past and to the development of a field. It is a reminder of the sociology of scientific progress, the limitations of scientific research and the randomness with which “accumulation” of knowledge takes place. Despite the increasing globalization of marketing, marketing thinking and its dissemination is cultivated by cliques through their access to journals, publishers, associations, and conferences. On the other hand – but this is discouraging – it may be the best we can do as resources in time, brain capacity, and communication are limited.

The search for a universal, clear and complete definition of RM: a ghost hunt
As I find much of the discussion on definitions of RM a ghost hunt, I venture to elaborate briefly on the function and nature of definitions. Many currently contribute definitions of RM. Every definition says something, but it does not tell the whole story A brief . definition is usually only understood by those who have a profound insight into a phenomenon already Comments such as “the defini. tion does not say much” or “the definition is not complete”, which seem to be common in the debate on RM, are meaningless per se. Lack of clarity of phenomena and their definitions stands out as a major source of frustration, both for scholars and practitioners. However, no definition of RM will ever be precise and all-inclusive. It cannot, because social phenomena are not in themselves precise. Definitions can only be used as vehicles for thought, as perspectives, or as indications of essential properties of a phenomenon. In mainstream scholarly research, clearly delimited and non-overlapping definitions are promoted as the ideal. If phenomena cannot be defined in short statements or listings, they can be linked with a certain method of measurement and operational definitions are born. In the latter case we are distorting and limiting reality, which, for example, statisticians are forced to do. This is justified in certain cases, not least for practical research purposes, such as the aggregation of quantitative data to higher-level categories. Operational definitions can hardly ever be claimed to represent a phenomenon in an objective and general way, however. One way of approaching phenomena in society is to accept that they have vague and formless contours. Set theory in mathematics uses the term “fuzzy sets” – sets which are

not clearly defined. We handle such sets in business and teaching every day . Shirouzu (1989, pp. 55-6) shows that it has been easier in Japan to accept fuzzy phenomena than in the USA, where the scientific community has termed them “comical” and “content-free”. Attempts are being made in Japan to develop software with “… fuzzy logic, a branch of mathematics designed to help computers simulate the various kinds of vagueness and uncertainty found in everyday life” (p. 55). He also indicates that, in Japan, extensive product development is being carried out on the basis of “fuzzy logic”. Fuzzy logic is not the same as sloppy logic; it is a more fertile approach to reality . People show fuzzy symptoms of physical and mental disorders, something which Western medical research lacks the ability to handle. Company, market, customer, competitor, product, services and quality are all very indistinct concepts. Nevertheless, they have a core of something essential, which experience, intuition and common sense enable us to perceive. They are not clearly delimited and they overlap one another. Despite these alleged shortcomings, we use them and we cannot do without them. The ambiguous and the chaotic are also found in the management literature. For example, Peters and Waterman (1982) considered that one had to accept ambiguity and Peters later wrote a book entitled Thriving on Chaos (1988). Chaos research from the natural sciences has also, to a certain extent, been applied to social science thinking (Prigogene and Stengers, 1985). I do not use my definition of RM – “RM is marketing seen as relationships, networks and interaction” – as a a clearly delimited construct, a “box”. The definition provides a perspective – “Let’s look at marketing through the relationship eyeglasses”. New categories, concepts, models and theories can serve as lenses through which we perceive the world. If the lenses are wrongly curved, the world will look fuzzy If they are tinted, it . may look sunny when in fact it is cloudy . Certain lenses improve our vision at close range, others at a distance. As marketing is a complex field, a single pair of glasses is not sufficient. There are bifocals that allow two perspectives, but we need more than two. The definition can also be perceived as a shortlisting of the core variables that have emerged out of real-world studies and those theories that have so far contributed to the current efforts of identifying the content of RM. These core variables provide a focus for our search for a meaningful content of RM. The more we know about RM, the easier it will be to make a short definition, not a precise one in a mechanistic sense, but one that

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captures the essence of RM enough to guide us into improved understanding and insight.

Conclusion: RM is a paradigm shift
New concepts, models and theories can very well be the emperor’s new clothes – but old and recognized theories can also be nonexistent clothes. Only the innocent child dares says the obvious: “But he doesn’t have anything on!” I have come to the conclusion that RM provides a new costume which is both visible and tangible. I believe RM offers more common sense in marketing, and that it makes important phenomena visible in the confusing world in which marketers search for meaning. Although RM exists in practice, putting the academic headlights on RM will increase the awareness of RM in business and introduce new concepts as vehicles for thought and more systematic ways of approaching relational issues.

“…There are those who claim that RM is just another add-on to a solid core of marketing management knowledge, but would probably deserve to get its own chapter in the text-books in the future. I have come to the conclusion that RM is a paradigm shift in marketing…”
It is not enough to think in new ways to claim a paradigm shift; it must also materialize in action. A new paradigm requires new scientific attitudes, methods and techniques. Current obstacles are the belief that knowledge is incremental and builds on previous knowledge, a lack of lateral thinking, and the misunderstanding of what a paradigm shift is. A more innovative use of research approaches is necessary McKenna (1991), . who has written a practitioner book on RM, claims that successful marketing first and foremost is the outcome of qualitative studies and assessments, and not of quantitative research. Quantitative marketing research in its application often represents a fundamentalist and narrow view of science and the search for reality The strengths of quantita. tive methodology are degraded because of the ubiquitous abuse of its techniques. Trivial details are tested and what cannot be captured through a set of statistical techniques is then at risk of “not existing”, that is, most of reality gets branded as unreal. This delays – maybe also kills – a paradigm shift. It is the hallmark of ignorance of the theory of science and lack of innovativeness and originality when a researcher masters one or two measurement techniques and never goes beyond these. The belief that “objective”, rule-governed research is the road to knowledge, is

naive. Statistical methods are based on subjective values, personal arbitrary choices, and intersubjectivity, and their “logic” is but one of several possible logics. That quantitative results demand qualitative interpretations is treated as a taboo. This lack of understanding is less prevalent among practising managers as reality and complexity are more obtrusive for them. The claim of paradigm shift in marketing is controversial. It rejects the requisite that new marketing thinking should build on existing knowledge and that knowledge development is just a matter of accumulation. A paradigm shift is a new foundation for thinking. Existing knowledge can be incorporated in a new paradigm but cannot provide its foundation. The understanding that the earth is round is not just an add-on to a flat earth. However, much of the knowledge that we accumulated on the premiss that the earth was flat is applicable to the round earth, but does not constitute its foundation. There are those who claim that RM is just another add-on to a solid core of marketing management knowledge, but would probably deserve to get its own chapter in the textbooks in the future. I have come to the conclusion that RM is a paradigm shift in marketing. In the initial but brief overview of the elements of the 30R approach, some of the arguments were listed. In conclusion let us recall and stress some of the reasons for seeing RM as a paradigm shift : • RM represents ubiquitous and ancient practices in business (albeit, other terms are deployed) but relationships and networks are treated as a footnote in marketing education and general marketing management theory . • The two major theories of marketing that have emerged during the past 20-year period – services marketing and the network approach to industrial marketing – although they represent different substantive areas, both offer the same core variables: relationships, networks and interaction. These core variables also appear in other types of management research, not least in new organizational theory and quality management. • Competition is usually hailed as the driver of a market economy Apart from competi. tion we need regulations and institutions, either formal ones or informal through tradition and shared values and accepted behaviour. The really significant contribution of RM is the emphasis that RM puts on collaboration. We need collaboration between customers and suppliers, between competitors, between firms and government, etc. A dynamic balance, the marketing

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equilibrium, includes the three factors – of competition, collaboration and regulations/ institutions. • Finally, and this is an argument that requires a future treatise of its own: society is a network of relationships in which we interact. If we dissolve the networks of relationships, we become hermits, isolated and self-supporting. We need no marketing. But business and marketing are embedded in society and marketing is a property or a subset of society Consequently, marketing . is also part of the network of relationships, a fact that has so far not been recognized in marketing theory .

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